The Foreign Service Journal - October 2014 - page 52

Thank you to all who
responded to AFSA’s call
for feedback after hearing
the news that last-minute
changes to bidding instruc-
tions were in the works. The
most dramatic change was
the doubling of the length
of service required, from
one year to two, in a critical
priority country before an
employee is eligible for prior-
ity bidding status.
Many FSOs plan their
bidding strategy around
family needs such as chil-
dren’s schooling, spousal
employment and proximity to
aging parents; the timing of
priority bidding opportunities
plays high in that strategy.
AFSA used your thoughtful
responses to stop this sud-
den change and allow for an
essential impact analysis.
The agency declared that
it will engage with all stake-
holders to identify incentives,
options and other potential
changes to our CPC service
package to better meet its
continuity objective of having
more o•cers serve for two
consecutive years to improve
program implementation. For
now, priority consideration
remains a Foreign Service
benefit for eligible employees
completing a full CPC tour of
12 months.
Postponing the change
will allow agency leaders
with di‹erent functional
backgrounds, including those
most a‹ected by the decision,
to think through its full impact
and likely consequences and
then, importantly, to ensure
that the change is managed
In the feedback AFSA
received, one concern sur-
faced numerous times: post-
traumatic stress disorder and
its symptoms. PTSD is a likely
consequence of extended
CPC tours that must not be
ignored. Many Foreign Service
members su‹ering from
PTSD don’t realize it at first,
only that they cannot focus
or sleep and are constantly
irritable—to name just a few
AFSA recently hosted Ron
Capps for a Book Notes talk
(see p. 59). He read from and
discussed his memoir,
ously Not All Right: Five Wars
in Ten Years
, which provides
a unique perspective from a
Foreign Service o•cer (and
reserve military o•cer) who
faced PTSD.
It is widely accepted now
that one does not have to par-
ticipate in combat to experi-
ence PTSD, and Capps vividly
describes the cumulative
e‹ect of his experiences.
A 2007 State Depart-
ment survey revealed that
17 percent of FSOs serving
in stressful environments
acknowledged displaying
some symptoms of PTSD.
PTSD does not develop over-
night, and the e‹ects of work-
ing in CPCs are showing up
in various ways within USAID.
For example, some o•cers
returning from CPCs find
language training impossible
(many cannot focus and need
time to decompress after
such high-stress posts).
Clear best practices, analy-
sis and guidance are lacking.
It is time to step back and
revisit the e‹ect that serv-
ing in a CPC can have on our
employees and their lives.
We must address the
stigma and shame associated
with PTSD, which are exacer-
bated by the fact that PTSD
is a very personal experience
and does not a‹ect everyone
the same way. In addition,
people fear that PTSD can
a‹ect security clearances.
A 2010 State Department
inspector general report on
unaccompanied posts stated
that “Many returnees experi-
ence problems adjusting to
their follow-on assignments,”
and suggested that more
counseling services may be
USAID’s vision statement
suggests: “Nations and com-
munities must increasingly
be able to meet the needs of
their citizens, whether by pro-
viding health care, education
or economic opportunity.”
Organizations say many
things, but the way they treat
their own people is what
demonstrates true integrity.
If, after weighing whether to
encourage lengthened tours
in CPCs given the negative
consequences and the associ-
ated costs, USAID decides to
move forward, it must be pre-
pared to deal with the mental
health aftermath. Someone’s
life may depend on it.
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP.
or (202) 712-1631
USAID Must Weigh Cost of
Longer Critical Priority Country Tours
Organizations say many things, but the
way they treat their own people is what
demonstrates true integrity.
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